By JEREMY SINEK
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Unapologetically huge, they are, at the very least, indispensable workhorses for people who have lots of stuff and need to haul it. Stick luxury nameplates on their tailgates, however, and they become the 21st-century poster vehicles for status, success and conspicuous consumption.
Either way, they're not going away.
Those who love them, love them a lot; buyers in this category are "extremely" loyal, says John Bardwell of Bond Brand Loyalty. And their sales are growing.
Full-size SUVs are still a small slice of the overall Canadian market, but last year they grew their sales by about 7 per cent. Parsing the numbers more precisely, mainstream-brand full-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition matched the overall market with a 4.5-per cent gain, while those wearing luxurybrand badges grew 11 per cent.
A tiny part of that growth came from a new entry - the Bentley Bentayga found 116 Canadian buyers in its first full year here. And more growth may be fuelled this year by another newbie, the upcoming BMW X7, as well as recent full redesigns of segment stalwarts, the Lincoln Navigator and its commoner cousin, the Ford Expedition.
Even the mainstream models can be considered luxury purchases, given that their MSRPs typically start around $60,000 (though you could save about $5,000 if you opted for 2WD on a Chevrolet Tahoe or GMC Yukon.) Luxury icons like the Cadillac Escalade start at more than $85,000; Lincoln says the average selling MSRP of a Navigator is $93,750, excluding freight, taxes and fees.
Despite the high prices, purchasers in this segment are more likely to pay cash than those in almost any other vehicle category, says Bardwell. And, he adds, no significant incentives are required. "Just good targeted marketing."
Radek Garbowski, president of automotive data and technology provider Moto Insight, told Globe Drive that, as of this writing, the only cash incentive listed for a large luxury SUV was $1,000 off the Infiniti QX80 - a near-$80,000 vehicle. Of course, that's not to say individual buyers don't negotiate discounts on their own. Moto Insight's consumer web site, unhaggle.com shows the average customer pays about $5,000 below MSRP on a $100,000 Escalade.
In this era of car-based crossovers, this is a corner of the automotive landscape where traditional SUVs still roam. That is to say, basically trucks, with body-onframe construction and longitudinal engines primarily powering the rear wheels.
For all their external size, most of these five-metre-plus behemoths are not proportionally spacious inside, in part because the need to accommodate a drive axle in the rear enforces a high floor. Perhaps that's why there always seems to be a disproportionate number of the biggest SUVs on the road equipped with roof-top cargo boxes.
Where they do tend to excel is in the weight they can tote or tow. Max tow ratings range from about 3,175 kg to more than 4,082. "More than 50 per cent of customers in the non-premium segment value towing, and 15 per cent tow weekly or monthly," says Bardwell.
"In addition, family sizes are larger, especially in the extended wheelbase area," he says. But both those numbers drop a bit when you get into the premium category, where "full-size utility buyers more often have only one to two children at home, and buyers are more focused on a statement vehicle."
So, if many of them are built like traditional SUVs, does that make them legit off-roaders? Yes and no.
Sheer size is a deterrent in some off-road situations.
Not to mention the inadvisability of subjecting any $60,000-plus vehicle to the abuse of rough terrain. Still, many have the hardware for extreme offroading: dual-range transfer cases, locking differentials, hill-descent control and variable-height suspension.
Fuel economy tends not to be a priority for buyers in this market. For those who do care, the Range Rover offers a diesel engine (as does its slightly smaller Land Rover Discovery sibling); two other options worth a mention, though they also just miss our 5-metre-long definition of largeness, are hybrid versions of the Acura MDX and the Volvo XC90 (the latter a plug-in).
Not forgetting, of course, the all-electric 5.04-metre Tesla Model X.
But what if you'd rather flaunt the largest possible literal footprint than minimize your figurative carbon footprint? In that case, point yourself toward the nearest Cadillac showroom, where the Cadillac Escalade ESV awaits. The 5.7-metre stretch version of the Escalade is still the luxury SUV that occupies the greatest share of the road or parking lot.
AT THE SHOW: FULL-SIZED SUVS
AUDI Q7 Audi's largest offering is more crossover than SUV but has great genes - its architecture is shared with the 2019 Porsche Cayenne.
Powered by a 333-hp supercharged V-6, it's rich in high tech, with available four-wheel steering and adaptive air suspension.
RANGE ROVER Arguably the original luxury SUV, the Rover still combines luxury (especially in the long-wheelbase Autobiography flagship), onroad performance and - yes, still - hard-core off-road ability like no other. Engines range from a 254hp V-6 diesel to a 557-hp supercharged V-8. It is a nominee for World Car of the Year.
LEXUS LX570 It may be lavishly larded with Lexus luxury but the brand's flagship SUV is no soft-roader. It has rugged ladder-frame construction, a solid rear axle, dual-range transfer case with locking centre differential and variable-height suspension. Not that you would, but you could ...
LINCOLN NAVIGATOR Redone from scratch for the first time in 20 years, the Lincoln Navigator is superficially an oldschool body-on-frame truck like its Cadillac Escalade nemesis.
However its ride and handling benefit from independent rear suspension and its twin-turbo V-6 promises better fuel economy than the Cadillac's big V-8.
With seat configurations for seven or eight passengers, the three-row, all-wheel-drive Ascent arrives this summer. It will be powered by a 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder generating 260 horsepower, and be equipped with the brand's EyeSight driverassist technology.
The Atlas embraces the boxy design, its front fascia appearing strong and chiselled, complemented by standard LED headlights. Third-row access is gained by using a strap to push the second row forward close to the first row. The SUV is powered by a 3.6litre V-6 that makes 276 horsepower, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The limited edition Range Rover SV Coupe is among the rare vehicle whose interrior is as impressive as its exterior.
While Infiniti was offering $1,000 off the QX80 - a near-$80,000 vehicle - at publication time, generally this segment finds no significant incentives are needed to move vehicles. Full-size SUV sales grew by about 7 per cent last year in Canada.
The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is the result of a recent redesign, with improved ride, handling and fuel economy.